Monday, August 1, 2016

And How Are You Today? A Tale of Reverse Customer Service

First of all I had no business being in Macy’s, especially the 34th Street Mothership. But I was in the neighborhood, I needed a bra, and so there I was strolling through the lingerie department like I had money and boobs.

When I got up to the cashier, she was there but not there. No greeting. No “Welcome to Macy’s. Did you find what you were looking for?” Nothing. As a matter of fact she was on the store phone, handset wedged between her right ear and shoulder, left hand vaguely extended toward me to take my items, her eyes looking up and off into the distance, but not at me. So I waited. I waited for her to hang up the phone and focus. I wasn’t just purchasing. I had questions.

When she put down the phone and looked at me it wasn’t a loving gaze. I handed her the item I wasn’t buying and then asked the price of a second. She did her job in a perfunctory way that came off as dismissive and rude. And I felt a little bit of anger bubble up; like that tickle you feel in the back of your throat when you’re getting a cold. But I didn’t want to be angry.

So instead I smiled, looked her in the eye, and said, “And how are you today?” She opened her mouth to answer but no words came out. Her face was blank but not blank. I know that look. It’s the look you get when a supposedly simple question doesn’t have a simple answer. Your mouth opens – out of habit – but your brain says, “Nope. I got nothing.” In the growing silence I said, “Ah, one of those days?” She blinked, exhaled, and said, “Yeah.”

“I figured.”

“My family keeps calling me,” she said. “They know I can’t talk. I’m at work. Someone is supposed to pick up my son from school but now I don’t know if they did. He’s in Brooklyn. I’m here. And I don’t know what’s going on.”

Ahh! My bras – because I went in to buy one and somehow ended up with four – didn’t compare to that.

“That must be really frustrating,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said now looking directly at me and seeing me; Not the customer but the person standing in front of her. And maybe that’s because I tried to see her, the person not the cashier, standing in front of me.

Her son is three years old, and she can’t believe how much energy he has. She seemed tired just sharing that. “His grandma tells him to take a nap and he just looks at her like she’s crazy.” As we chatted she rang up my bras with all the available discounts even though I didn’t have a Macy’s card or coupons. The discounts were good enough to even get the bra I’d put back.

Before I left, I told her everything was probably fine; because either it was or it wasn’t. She didn’t need my help to think the worst.

Now, I’m usually a hard ass when it comes to customer service, like the other day at the gym. The hot water was out. Again. They put up a tiny sign in the locker room that I didn’t see it until I was standing there in flip-flops and a towel. A sign at the front desk would have given me the option of choosing the type of workout I did or whether I worked out at all. No upfront sign is not only poor service but a flagrant disregard of my time.

When I asked why no sign, I was told some nonsense about the manager saying there were too many signs out front.  Too many signs? If they can put up a sign to sell me stuff I don’t want – raffles, bring-a-friend promotions, miracle fitness powders, celebrity-endorsed magic beans – then they can put up a sign to tell me when the stuff I already paid for isn’t working. Yes, I shower at the gym after a workout. It’s not just a personal preference. It’s a public service that I wish more people availed themselves of. And maybe they would if the hot water worked.

But instead of going on the warpath in Macy’s I chose a different path. Make no mistake: if my “How are you?” had been met with continued apathetic shade, y’all might’ve seen me on TV: “Melee in Lingerie! News at 11.”

As much as I try, I’m not always able to plug into and be My Better Self. It seems like that chick is often nowhere to be found. She’s probably meditating, out on a chai tea break, or reading the latest issue of “O” magazine. But the Side Eye, Hand On Hip, Let Me See Your Manager Lady? She shows up e’ryday ready to fight as if righteous indignation was a superpower. But expending that kind of energy is exhausting and nowadays is needed elsewhere for bigger problems. Like figuring out what possessed me to buy five bras in Macy’s when I only needed one.

The Urban Erma, the longest running column on, was created and written by stand-up comedian Leighann LordListen to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Get her e-books on AMAZON

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